Love Thy Neighbour

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen -Love thy Neighbour3

I am not a very good neighbour.

We’ve lived in this rented house for nearly 18 months, and I know the names of just two of our neighbours. I know the old man who lives next door, who mumbles so badly I understand only about 20% of what he says. Most of our relationship is him chatting at me as I push the buggy in the front door, smiling and nodding and hoping he’s not actually saying something that requires any more of a response.

There’s a man a few doors up who is very friendly. He always stops to say hi, helps clean up the leaves and apples that fall on the pavement in the autumn, seems to know a bit about everyone in the street. But he also doesn’t have an off button. He can talk for half an hour without taking a breath, until he suddenly notices your toddler shivering in the cold and wonders aloud why you haven’t taken her inside.

I reached adulthood on a wave of evangelical fervour to be a world-changer. Throughout my late teens, at every summer festival and church youth night, we sang the song, “I’m Going To Be A History Maker In This Land” by Delirious. I practically inhaled Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution when it came out in 2006. I imagined myself a central figure in my neighbourhood—we would be in and out of each other’s homes and lives constantly; it would be authentic and messy and they would be so grateful that I moved in.

Now, I sometimes find myself checking if the coast is clear before leaving the house. It’s not that I don’t want to be a good neighbour, but the reality isn’t as easy as I’d idealistically imagined. When we lived in Brussels, we “met” our downstairs neighbour after we found him passed out by the front door one evening and helped him up the flight of stairs to his flat. In Luxembourg, I didn’t speak any of the three national languages. I would pass my neighbours in the basement laundry room, but by the time I’d finished stuffing my dirty laundry into the washing machine and got up the courage to attempt something more than “Bonjour,” they’d be gone again.

I grew up in a village of 500 people. We knew almost everyone. Our neighbours were a fixture in our life—they fed the cat when we were away, their teenagers babysat us, and then I babysat their children. I still pop around for a cup of coffee with one neighbour every time I am back.

What made the difference? Maybe it was because in that small village we were all pretty alike: White, mostly middle class, and nearly everyone on my parents’ road has lived there for at least twenty years. In the last three capital cities I’ve lived in, we’ve been a mixed bunch of nationalities, ethnicities, religions, classes, and languages.

It takes courage to cross those visible and invisible lines and enter into real community, and I’ve rarely had it, if I’m honest. Crossing those lines is uncomfortable and tiring and a massive exercise in humility, and so it has just been easier not to.

We’re planning a move again. Same city this time, but a whole new world in many ways. We’ll be living in a small neighbourhood of houses, neatly slotted in between a massive council estate of mostly white working class, and a borough populated almost entirely by Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi families. Neither community feels remotely familiar to me.

I’m moving ten months after the Brexit vote, with our country’s identity a shaky and uncertain thing. The vote revealed deep fractures in our communities, fractures I’ve no idea how to begin restoring. One thing I do believe is that those fractures are there because we stopped knowing our neighbours. We stopped being willing to suspend our desire for privacy, our need to be right, our pride at being better, and our willingness to get a little uncomfortable in the name of togetherness.

This time, I am moving with a better sense of perspective, I hope. I am not the hero of the story and to pretend I am, is only to invite hurt and disappointment. God isn’t, and never was, calling me to my neighbourhood so that I can bring about its renewal, to somehow be the light in the darkness.

It’s tempting to hold on to the narratives of my early adulthood, because they are so confident, so optimistic, and provide me with the kind of identity my ego would love to claim. But if there is any kind of calling happening, it is simply the call to “come and see” what God is already doing in my new neighbourhood. It’s a call to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable, a call to surrender my privilege by choosing to listen rather than talk, learn rather than teach–to just be rather than constantly trying to be the saviour.

“Blessed are the meek”, Jesus said, which The Message puts this way: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less.” So, as we begin to pack boxes and cancel utilities, I’m making this my prayer for our move: that I would be content with just who I am—broken and beloved. Starting there seems like a good foundation to becoming a better neighbour.

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Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona lives in London with her Danish husband and her two young children. She is determinedly seeking the sacred in the ordinary, learning to see that even the most mundane moments of her day can be spiritual if she wakes up to the Divine in those places. She is in training to become a Spiritual Director, and baking is her favourite spiritual practice. You can follow her through her blog at fionalynne.com.
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen

Latest posts by Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen (see all)

Fiona Koefoed-Jespersen
  • Smiling and cringing at the same time over your story of the talkative neighbor, because there are days when I plan my walk around a need to just WALK and not be captured into a conversation. Then I ask myself how in the world I expect to become part of the lives of my neighbors if I won’t take time to listen to their stories . . .
    My selfishness shows up in the most disconcerting ways — and I’m blessed by your reminder that we are both broken and beloved.

    • fiona lynne

      Yes. So glad I’m not the only one! My temptation is to always want it on my terms – my timing, my initiative, my boundaries. It takes some courage to give that up and receive what God brings to me. x

  • LOVE this. Yes, I am bolder in my imagination than in reality. I so want this kind of spirit in loving my neighbors, too. I think you have the right spirit, being a learner, teachable and willing to built relationships from that identity. You will be a light without even realizing it when you get into people’s lives, happy to just be there. And let me say, I can’t imagine a more hospitable culture to move into than South Asian (my favorite of all the cultures I’ve been a part of). If you can place yourself as a learner there, you will have so many people willing to pour their rich culture into your life!

    • fiona lynne

      Nicole, you are someone I think of when I imagine what doing this well looks like. I love your heart for the people around you, and your willingness to get uncomfortable. Thank you for your encouragement! x

  • Kerri L. Banister Holferty

    Holding you up as you make this transition to a new home, new neighbors and new experiences. May Jesus be right there with you. Nudging you out your front door.

    • fiona lynne

      Thank you, Kerri. And may I not resist the nudging too much! xxx

  • Tracy Nelson

    yes! You can SO do this. Blessings in your move. I hear you – we didn’t really know our neighbors in Hong Kong, then moved to Surrey, and I tried to talk with the East Indian grandmothers who brought their grand’s to the playground, but the little boys kept bullying my tiny girl, so I stopped going … then we moved to WA, and I thought – GREAT we’ll have neighbors like the old days … but our only neighbor was a sad, mean old man who hated us before we ever moved in .. .he refused a plate of cookies from my tiny! … now we’ve moved yet again, and are working on getting to know our neighbors .. they are different than us, but they are beautiful people, and we are growing together …..I am committed to making it good – this time! So, I am praying for your transition – just smile at them, and you’ll be instant friends! Love you – love your heart.

    • fiona lynne

      Ugh I’m sorry it has been so hard for you. I so admire you persistence in keeping offering of yourself (and your cookies!!) again and again. Thank you for sharing and for your encouragement xxx

  • Kristin

    Thank you so much for this reflection Fiona! I resonate with so much of what you said. We are in the US and moving to Kenya this summer, where we lived 10 years ago. It’s so hard to be uncomfortable! 🙂

    • fiona lynne

      Blessings on your journey back to Kenya. I am sure it will feel both like a homecoming and a strange new land! May you get comfortable being uncomfortable, and so experience many unexpected blessings x

  • I am so grateful you are inviting us into your story, with all the changes and births and moves. I love the idea of just “come and see” what God is already doing in the neighbourhood. May you have eyes to see and keep inviting us along …

    • fiona lynne

      That “come and see” questions seems to come up in every area of my life these days. Partly I think it is a call to take off my superhero cape and learn to SEE before jumping in thinking I have all the answers. Thank you for always letting me share my unfinished thoughts here!

  • This is a story that needs to be told. This topic could be an entire book. It is so true and your story resonates with me. I hope to hear more.

    • fiona lynne

      Right?! I feel like I am at the tip of the iceberg but I am looking frward to exploring and learning more. Thanks for being here x

  • Megan Gahan

    Gosh, thank you for this my friend. Thank you for giving yourself grace because, in turn, you give all of us permission to give ourselves grace as well. That is one of the things I greatly treasure about your writing. Praying over your family as you prepare to move . . I have no doubt your future neighbors will be abundantly blessed by your presence there <3

    • fiona lynne

      Thank you Meg. So grateful for you x

  • Lisa Sands Scandrette

    Fiona, praying that you find a friendly face as you settle into your new neighborhood–it certainly is uncomfortable and tiring to cross lines in unfamiliar territory. Sometimes it is slow work–we’ve lived in our neighborhood almost twenty years and I am only beginning to feel like I belong to the neighborhood! Thanks for sharing your story with honesty.

    • fiona lynne

      Oh thank you for that prayer. Yes, a friendly face makes every new place instantly more bearable. And thank you for the reminder that it is slow work; I am frequently too impatient!

  • Nicola

    Great post – and such a good observation about village life too, “What made the difference? Maybe it was because in that small village we were all pretty alike: White, mostly middle class, and nearly everyone on my parents’ road has lived there for at least twenty years.” That’s really stayed with me as I realise that I am, at times, prone to wanting to have people living near and around me who are similar to me. A big challenge there. Oh and I have had that Delirious? song in my head all day now!! Takes me back to youth group trips to see them in concert – I feel very old now I realise that was 20ish years ago….

    • fiona lynne

      I think it’s very natural to want to be with people who are like us. It’s comfortable and takes less energy. I think the challenge to myself is that often the relationships that take a bit more effort are the ones that ultimately are the most fruitful and rewarding. It’s easier said than done though!
      (Aaah, Delirious. I was such a fan girl. And yes, I feel old too!)

  • “God isn’t, and never was, calling me to my neighbourhood so that I can bring about its renewal, to somehow be the light in the darkness.” {Big EXHALE} Thank you for this, Fiona! I have been feeling this weight since moving into our neighbourhood 4.5 years ago. What a freeing thought to be released from producing something. The Light will shine regardless. We need only be cracked enough to let it through.

    PS. I LOVE that I can hear your voice as I read your words. 😀

    • fiona lynne

      Yes! Too much of my life is about what I can produce that I start applying it everywhere, and that’s so damaging. The light WILL shine. xxxxx

  • sandyhay

    I believe that in voicing something like you have here and at Rise Up Sister is an impetus. Not that just because you said this out loud you have to “make it come true” but because you know this is what God is leading you to do. Yes, it will be a bit scary but you have a whole army of shelovlies and God for you. 🙂 xoxoxo

    • fiona lynne

      Thank you Sandy, I hope so!

  • Kathleen Bertrand

    “I am not the hero of the story and to pretend I am, is only to invite hurt and disappointment….It’s a call to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable, a call to surrender my privilege by choosing to listen rather than talk, learn rather than teach–to just be rather than constantly trying to be the saviour.” YES! I came to this same point along a different path than you but here I am too! 🙂

    We moved to our current (awesome!) neighbourhood about two years ago and I struggled quite a bit in the beginning. I wanted it to feel like community immediately but oh, it took (is taking) time…although I still sometimes hide by bringing a book to the park. 😉

    • fiona lynne

      Oh it does take time, and I so want it to be instantaneous! It’s a good reminder to be patient, to do the slow good work of settling in. x

  • Tasha

    “It’s a call to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable, a call to surrender my privilege by choosing to listen rather than talk, learn rather than teach–to just be rather than constantly trying to be the savior.” I love that. Your honest and humility are refreshing. Thank you for sharing, Fiona.

    • fiona lynne

      Thank you Tasha x

  • “But if there is any kind of calling happening, it is simply the call to “come and see” what God is already doing in my new neighbourhood.” I LOVE this. Such a breath of fresh air when we remember it’s not all down to us! Thank you for the honesty and beauty there is here, lovely Fiona x

    • fiona lynne

      Thank you love x

  • I’m just coming back off of several years living overseas, and the longer I was there the more I realized I was bearing witness to what God was doing for those back home, which is also important, but puts me less at the forefront–which I think is even more important. Thanks for sharing this. Love it.